Monday, January 04, 2016

This Week in Television History: January 2016 PART I


Listen to me on TV CONFIDENTIAL:

 

 
As always, the further we go back in Hollywood history, the more that fact and legend become intertwined. It's hard to say where the truth really lies.

January 5, 1961
Mr. Ed debuted. The show would run for six years.
Mister Ed is an American television situation comedy produced by Filmways that first aired in syndication from January 5 to July 2, 1961, and then on CBS from October 1, 1961, to February 6, 1966. The show's title character is a talking horse, originally appearing in short stories by Walter R. Brooks.
Mister Ed is one of the few series to debut in syndication and be picked up by a major network for prime time.

January 5, 1971
ABC's Alias Smith and Jones aired for the first time.
Alias Smith and Jones began with a made-for-TV movie of the previous year called The Young Country, about con artists in the Old West. It was produced, written and directed by Roy Huggins, who served as executive producer of AS&J and, under the pseudonym of John Thomas James, at least shared the writing credit on most episodes.

Roger Davis starred as Stephen Foster Moody, and Pete Duel had the secondary but significant role of Honest John Smith. Joan Hackett played a character called Clementine Hale; a character with the same name appeared in two AS&J episodes, played by Sally Field. This pilot was rejected, but Huggins was given a second chance and, with Glen A. Larson, developed Alias Smith and Jones. Both The Young Country and the series pilot movie originally aired as ABC Movies of the Week.

Alias Smith and Jones was made in the same spirit as many other American TV series, from Huggins' own The Fugitive to Renegade, about fugitives on the run across America who get involved in the personal lives of the people they meet. The major difference was that Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry were guilty of the crimes that they were accused of committing, but were trying to begin a non-criminal life.

The series was modeled on the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford (Universal contract player Ben Murphy was offered to the producers because he was considered a Paul Newman lookalike.) There were a number of similarities between the film and the TV series: One of the lead characters in the film was called Harvey Logan (played by Ted Cassidy). In real life Harvey Logan was also known by the nickname of "Kid Curry", Harvey Logan was an associate of the real Butch Cassidy and unlike the TV version, the real Kid Curry was a cold-blooded killer.

The TV series also featured a group of robbers called the Devil's Hole Gang, loosely based on the Hole in the Wall Gang from which Cassidy recruited most of his outlaws. In order to lend them an element of audience sympathy, Heyes and Curry were presented as men who avoided bloodshed (though Curry did once kill in self-defense) and were always attempting to reform and seek redemption for their "prior ways".

The names "Smith" and "Jones" originated from a comment in the 1969 film Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when, prior to one of their final hold-ups, the characters are outside a bank in Bolivia and Sundance turns to Butch and says: "I'm Smith and you're Jones."

January 6, 1936
Porky Pig makes his world debut in a Warner Brothers cartoon, Gold Diggers of '49. 

When Mel Blanc joined Warner Brothers the following year, he became the famous voice behind Porky as well as the Warner Brothers characters Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, Sylvester, and Tweety.

January 8, 1966
The final episode of "Shindig!" was broadcast on ABC-TV. 

The show featured the Kinks and the Who. Shindig! is an American musical variety series which aired on ABC from September 16, 1964-January 8, 1966. The show was hosted by Jimmy O'Neill, a disc jockey in Los Angeles at the time who also created the show along with his wife Sharon Sheeleyand production executive Art Stolnitz.  The original pilot was rejected by ABC and David Sontag, then Executive Producer of ABC, redeveloped and completely redesigned the show. A new pilot with a new cast of artists was shot starring Sam Cooke. That pilot aired as the premiere episode.
Shindig! was conceived as a short-notice replacement for Hootenanny, a series that had specialized in folk revival music. The folk revival had fizzled in 1964 as the result of the British Invasion, which damaged the ratings for Hootenanny and prompted that show's cancellation.
Shindig! focused on a broader variety of popular music than its predecessor and first aired for a half-hour every Wednesday evening, but was expanded to an hour in January 1965. In the fall of 1965, the show split into two half-hour telecasts, on Thursday and Saturday nights.
Shindig!'s premiere episode was actually the second pilot, and featured Sam Cooke, The Everly Brothers and The Righteous Brothers. Later shows were taped in Britain with The Beatles as the guests. The series featured other "British invasion" bands and performers including The WhoThe Rolling Stones and Cilla BlackShindig continued to broadcast episodes from London throughout its run.
Many popular performers of the day played on Shindig! including Lesley GoreBo Diddley, and Sonny and CherThe Beach BoysJames BrownJackie WilsonThe Supremes and The Ronettes.
Shindig!'s success prompted NBC to air the similar series Hullabaloo starting in January 1965 and other producers to launch syndicated rock music shows like Shivaree and Hollywood A Go-Go.
In March 1965, Little Eva performed her hit song "The Loco-Motion" in a live but short version of the song. This is the only known video clip of her singing the song.
Shindig! is one of the few rock music shows of the era to still have all of the episodes available to watch.

January 9, 1996
The first episode of 3rd Rock from the Sun aired on NBC. 

The premise of the show revolves around an extraterrestrial research expedition attempting to live as a normal human family in the fictional city of Rutherford, Ohio, said to be 52 miles (84 km) outside of Cleveland, where they live in an attic apartment. Humor was principally derived from the aliens' attempts to study human society and, because of their living as humans themselves while on Earth, to understand the human condition. This show reflects human life from the perspective of aliens and many sources of humour are from the learning experiences the alien characters have. Most of the episodes are named after the protagonist "Dick". In later episodes, they became more accustomed to Earth and often became more interested in their human lives than in their mission.
Dick Solomon (John Lithgow), the High Commander and leader of the expedition, is the family provider, and takes a position as a physics professor at Pendelton State University. Information officer Tommy (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) has been given the body of a teenager and is forced to enroll in high school (later college), leaving security officer Sally (Kristen Johnston) and communications officer Harry (French Stewart) to spend their lives as twenty somethings hanging out at home and bouncing through short-term jobs. The show also revolves around their relationships with humans, mostly their love interests.

January 10, 1971
Masterpiece Theatre debuts. 

Among the show's many presentations are Upstairs Downstairs (1974-1977), I, Claudius (1978), and A Tale of Two Cities (1989). Program hosts included Alistair Cooke and Russell Baker.

To quote the Bicentennial Minute, "And that's the way it was".

 


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Tony Figueroa
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